HUBBARD — Dylan Wells, 21, and his brother Darren, 19, may grow and sell miniature pumpkins, but there is nothing small about the way they do business.
The brothers raise small ornamental pumpkins, gourds, winter squash and Indian corn that are sold across the U.S. and in Japan and Mexico. They also are looking to tap into the Central American market.
What started out as having too many pumpkins, after trying to grow just a few, has turned into a flourishing business for the Wells brothers.
"It started by overplanting the garden with large pumpkins, so we filled up the pickup and parked it at the end of the driveway," Dylan Wells said. "We put a can out there and used a pay-on-your-honor type system, and we still do that to this day."
After some research their father, Dan, found that there was a market for miniature ornamental pumpkins, and their business, Autumn Harvest, was born. When they first started 15 years ago, their father coached them in the basic principles of running a business. That education is helping them put themselves through college so they can return and continue their business.
Dylan Wells is about to finish his business degree with a minor in entrepreneurship at Western Oregon University, and Darren will start work on an agricultural business management degree this fall at Linn-Benton Community College. He plans to transfer to Oregon State University after two years.
Their operation covers 210 acres near Hubbard. During their busiest time, they have 30 to 35 employees working to get their four pumpkin varieties, five squash varieties, mixed gourds and Indian corn harvested and processed.
Autumn Harvest has operated as a wholesale operation, going through distributors in the Northwest, Mexico and Japan, but now they are tapping into the retail market, mainly with their new online store and Google. A retail catalog soon will be completed.
"By using Google, we've hit it big on fall weddings," Dylan Wells said. "I get about 20 e-mails a week from brides wanting pumpkins for fall weddings."
The brothers also have found that as partners, they complement each other.
"I work on more of the marketing, catalog construction and office tasks, while Darren handles the mechanics, irrigation and other operations," Dylan Wells said. They are looking for ways to attract more customers from Mexico and Central America.
Japan also has proven to be a lucrative customer, especially as Halloween has become a much bigger event over the past 10 years, said Patrick Mayer, international trade manager with the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
"If you go into a home center or garden center there, displays are as big, if not bigger, than ours, as far as candles and witches on brooms and pumpkins," Mayer said. "That's good for mini pumpkin sales."
Mayer's job is to help businesses that are new to international markets make overseas connections. In the case of Autumn Harvest, mini pumpkins are somewhat of a special case, because there are not many producers, he said.
"(The Japanese customers) had expressed some interest in mini pumpkins so we made the connection," Mayer said. "Since (Autumn Harvest) made the connection at the Farwest Show, they just kind of took it and ran with it."
About 90 percent of their first shipment was sold before the container reached the port in Japan, Mayer said.
Their Japanese customers doubled their order this year, so Dylan Wells said they are sending two containers over.